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The Boys in the Bands
coming a profession for the sons and grandsons in the twentieth.
Mr. Jelly Roll, then, was typical of a period, but, though his contemporaries confirmed the main outlines of his story, few seemed to have had much personal contact with Morton, himself. At first this absence of congruity was puzzling, then, as these ancients of jazz spun out their own stories, not only did Jelly's life fall into perspective, not only were Jelly s main points confirmed, but, little by. little, the central mystery of jazz came to light. . . .
There was Alphonse Floristan Picou, the oldest living Creole clarinetist. On the telephone his accent was gumbo flavored. His house, old Louisiana style, stood on brick pillars against the flood. My companion whispered with awe, "It is only one of his seventeen properties. Thees Picou, he has properties all over New Orleans/'
Although it was nearly three o'clock of a Sunday afternoon, Picou was still yawning. "Last night we had a little cowein with wine and whiskey. I believe I drunk a quart. Pretty good for an old man, eh!"
Picou was sixty-nine and didn't show it. A vigorous stocky body was topped by a strong square-jawed face. The skin was the color of fresh, slightly pinkish parchment, the eyes dim and light blue, the teeth seedlike. Serene and merry, he displayed the naive and dignified self-absorption that often marks an original man. He talked on totally undisturbed by the interruptions of his wife, whose acquisitive face spoke of those seventeen properties.
"I was born in 1879 in New Orleans," began Picou. "We spoke Creole at home. Being we were so poor, 1 had to go to work when I was fourteen. I went to leam the tinsmith trade and I put my father under insurance and took care of the family.
"In my family it was the brother before me that started playing clarinet, but, when he would blow, the clarinet would screech and my father would say, There's that boy, calling
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